GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kent County is looking for someone to help immigrants feel more a part of the community through the Kent County Welcome Plan.
The new Welcome Plan coordinator role is part of a larger effort to help immigrants settle and thrive here, overcoming challenges in civic engagement, economic development, creating safe and connected communities, education and equitable access to services.
“Not only literacy in regards to language, but also systems: understanding how city government works, how the county government works. When I apply for a job, what does that process look like?” explained Omar Cuevas, the vice president of sales and marketing with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and part of the Kent County Gateways for Growth Steering Committee.
The coordinator will work with a number of organizations from the public and private sector.
“(The organizations) are working together to create a sense of belonging for immigrants and refugees here in this county, from hospital to banks, nonprofit organizations,” Cuevas said. “To ensure that these individuals, these families, stay here because they feel valued, they feel welcomed, and part of the fabric that enriches this community.”
Grand Rapids and Kent County are among 13 metro areas throughout the United States participating in Gateways to Growth.
Cuevas says not only is the program meant to help immigrants overcome barriers, but it also brings economic advantages. Kent County’s immigrant community grew by over 5,000 between 2016 and 2018. That’s about $1.1 billion in spending power.
“These are individuals that are filling jobs, that are filling classrooms, that are buying homes, that are starting businesses,” Cuevas said.
The program does not have a path to citizenship component.
Cuevas said Kent County’s Welcome Plan is not about policy but about equity and economics.
“Do we want to continue to struggle filling jobs? Or do we want to work together to figure out how we get this right?” he said.